Quit India: Brexit

M. Zakiul Islam | Published: June 13, 2019 21:55:40 | Updated: July 11, 2019 15:54:09

If you want to study two phenomena, best way is to study either the contrast or the congruence or both. Whatever be the method, the above caption has one common denominator … the British Empire. While the first two words are quite common but to the point the third one is enshrined in the present-day dotcom lingo and username, sort of. Nonetheless, it conveys and means what it is meant to mean.

This may add some credence to the allegation of fake media by some politicians. Any one like this writer who went to bed in Bangladesh and in this part of the world after following the BBC and the CNN that evening and observing a confident Prime Minister David Cameron seemingly assuring that all was going to be well, after all, would agree. Voting proceeded on June 23, 2016 while we were asleep and woke up to the news that (alas!), the majority of the UK voters have exercised their rights to leave the European Union (EU). The BBC, the CNN, Mr. David Cameron, President Obama and the independent observers with no obvious stake but plenty of academic interest were proven wrong.

Quit India movement is now part of history - a bright chapter in the history of movement for Indian independence . It meant withdrawal actions both corporeal and psychological. The Brexit is history in the making. It's more of a mental and bureaucratic exercise. Although, in a worst case scenario, it might mean exodus of thousands of migrant workers from the lesser privileged European countries from the United Kingdom (UK). The first one was a call for Britain to leave India voluntarily and the second one is for Britain seeking voluntary exit from the European Club. First one fell short and the second is faltering and proving difficult.

Like all things in life, when there are contending parties the best solution lies in finding a ground for common good. But that's a big challenge; what was good for India was not, perhaps, good for Britain; what is good for Britain is not all that good for the EU and Ireland and Scotland!

During the tumultuous days for independence of India, Britain entered the Second World War in 1939 much to the reluctance, albeit ignorance of Indian public. Although the rank and file of the Indian servicemen joined the British forces to fight the Axis Power which was spread from the swampy hilly Burmese front to the sandy deserts of Africa, it had nothing tangible to offer in terms of meeting the popular aspiration of an independent homeland. Rather the costly combat operations across the world only meant more deprivation and miseries to the Indian masses. Agitation and civil disobedience ensued threatening the much needed moral and material support that Britain needed from India to continue its war efforts.

In order to secure their support in its war efforts the British government constituted a Commission in March 1942 known as The Cripps Commission headed by Sir Stafford Cripps to hold talks with the Indian political parties. A draft declaration of the British Government included terms like establishment of Dominion, establishment of a Constituent Assembly and rights of the provinces to make separate constitutions. However, these were to take effect only after the cessation of the Second World War. This declaration offered Indians promises that were to be fulfilled in the future. In fact, the Cripps Mission wanted to write a Rain Cheque which was obviously rejected by Indian political parties. The Cripps Mission faced its obvious failure. Some critics say that while Sir Stafford Cripps was enjoying a promising phase in his political career he was dispatched on the Mission Impossible by the then British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill to face the inevitable humiliation and subsequent end of his political life.

In the backdrop of the failure of the much touted Cripps Mission, the Quit India (Bharat Chhado) Movement was launched in a meeting of the All-India Congress Committee by Mahatma Gandhi in August 1942 demanding an end to British Rule in India. Gandhi made a call to 'Do or Die' in his Quit India speech delivered in Bombay. All-India Congress Committee launched a mass protest demanding what Gandhi called an orderly British withdrawal from India. Sporadic small-scale violence took place around the country and the British arrested tens of thousands of leaders keeping them imprisoned until end of the Second World War in 1945.

 In terms of immediate objectives, Quit India Movement failed. Historians identified three main reasons for its failure: heavy-handed suppression by the British, weak co-ordination among all the political parties and the lack of a clear-cut programme of action. However, it had dawned on the British government that India was becoming ungovernable in the long run due to the cost of the Second World War. The burning questions for post-war was how to exit gracefully and peacefully and not whether or not.

Escalation of prices of essential was an inevitable outcome of the war effort resulting in the worst and one of the most severe famines in 1943 known as the Bengal Famine. Hundreds of thousands in the cities and villages of Bengal languished and perished in one of the deadliest man-made tragedy. Man- made, because known as the greenery, Bengal had no shortage of grains. But an artificial crisis was created by hoarding and warehousing of food grains to support the war front depriving the general masses of their sustenance. This horrific famine added more fuel to the fire and the demand for independence became cry of the hour. Street demonstrations and agitations became common place.

So much for Quit India.

 The referendum on European Union membership of the United Kingdom, popularly known as the EU referendum, was held on June 23, 2016 to seek opinion of the UK electorate whether the country should remain a member of, or leave the European Union (EU). The electorate voted in favour of leaving the EU. The result of the referendum was not binding. But the government of Prime Minister David Cameron promised to implement the result of the referendum while campaigning to remain in the EU. Consequently, the UK government initiated the official EU withdrawal process on March 29, 2017, meaning that it was due to leave the EU before 11PM on March 29, 2019, UK time, when the two-year period for Brexit negotiations expired.

Membership of the EU and such other bodies has long been a topic of debate in the United Kingdom. A similar referendum on continued membership of the then European Communities most commonly known as the Common Market was held in 1975. That was approved by 67 per cent of the voters. Although the British Isles geographically and physically belong to Europe, there are great fault lines in terms of culture and tradition, economy and trade, more contrasting interests than coalescing commonalities. UK did not adopt the Euro as its currency.

The 'Remain' campaign in the EU was endorsed by the Prime Minister David Cameron and Chancellor George Osborne. The 'Leave' camp was spearheaded by the Conservative MP Boris Johnson, Labour MP Gisela Stuart and others. Political parties, businesses, trade unions, newspapers and prominent individuals were also involved, and each side had supporters from across the political spectrum on the referendum.

The financial markets reacted negatively worldwide after the result was announced. Prime Minister David Cameron announced his resignation as Prime Minister and Leader of the Conservative Party having failed in his "Remain" campaign. EU referendum was for the historic first time that a national referendum had gone against the preferred option of the Government.

David Cameron was succeeded by Home Secretary Theresa May in July 2016. The opposition Labour Party also faced a leadership challenge as a result of the EU referendum. The proceedings of BREEXIT/NO BREXIT/NO DEAL BREXIT are going on in and outside the West Minister and other European capitals. Lot of water has flown through the Ganges and the Thames. And after two Prime Ministers and marathon debates in the House of Commons, there is no sign of a decision in sight. Meanwhile, recent election result of the European Parliament in the 28 member countries and gains made by the newly-formed Brexit Party in the UK has brought to the fore the fragility and tenuous state of the European Union.

Prime Minister Theresa May has already announced her decision to quit (office!). With uncertainties of Brexit looming at large, politics in the United Kingdom is taking new turns, alleged interference in the internal affairs of the United Kingdom by a sitting US President notwithstanding.

Voluntary quitting was troubling in 1942; voluntary exit is troublesome in 2019.

M. Zakiul Islam is a retired Air Commodore



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